Songs, drumbeats, and incantations reverberated through Stellenbosch's historic oak-lined streets on Saturday, 20 May, as traditional healers, elders, and community leaders gathered to bless the Krotoa Building.
Although the RW Wilcocks Building in Ryneveld Street was officially renamed in 2021 as part of Stellenbosch University's (US) visual redress process, Saturday's event honoured Krotoa as the “Mother of the Nation" with a rarely seen !Nau ceremony. Usually held to mark a rite of passage or a transition in the life of a community, the !Nau also marks transition to womanhood. As such, Saturday's ceremony closed the circle for Krotoa, who as a young woman enslaved at the Cape in the 1600s, had been denied her Hokmeisietyd or rite of passage.
Prof Sylvia Vollenhoven, project manager in SU's Division of Social Impact and Transformation, underscored the relevance of honouring Krotoa almost 350 years after she died on Robben Island. “If Africa is the birthplace of humanity, then we are all children of the KhoiKhoi and San."
Traditional leaders took turns to pay homage to Krotoa, and to acknowledge the pivotal role played by Chief Karel King in initiating the redress process at SU.
Dr Leslie van Rooi, SU Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, said that the recognition of Krotoa's place in history is critical for the return of a “missing part to the story of our University". Further engagement will look at ways to expand SU's multilingual environment, he said. “In our policies and processes, we want to acknowledge that there is more than one language community represented here (at SU)."
Those in attendance were invited to learn phrases and join in the songs and blessings before moving to the Stellenbosch University Museum for the A !Nau for Now Collaboration, opened by Dr Marlene Le Roux, chief executive officer of Artscape.
Here, Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, contextualised the renaming of the Krotoa Building, saying: “Stellenbosch University is on a continual transformation journey. This is a process of refocussing our institution in a way that will allow a good university to become a great university – a national asset in service of society that belongs to all the people who walk through these halls."
The celebrated Namaqua Garage Dance Ensemble from O'Kiep (South Africa) and Australia's Gurambilbarra, Townsville-based Wulgurukaba Walkabouts Aboriginal Dancers engaged in a rare collaboration encompassing the performance poetry and music of Diana Ferrus and musician and award-winning writer Jolyn Phillips.
The nourishment – which included periwinkles, buchu, ox livers and mussels - was provided by Shihaam Domingo and locally foraged or supplied by sustainable farmers. Even the water served was sourced from a local mountain stream. Domingo said the fare was chosen to replicate much of what Krotoa would have eaten at the time, and to connect those attending Saturday's event to the ground and each other. “We come from generations of people who once lived off veldkos, so we are all connected."
The event formed part of nationwide celebrations of the renaming of SU's Krotoa Building, held in collaboration with Artscape, the Universities of Johannesburg and the Free State, and the Australian High Commission.
Photographer: Henk Oets